One diversion I’ve omitted to mention since we started this blog is skiing. Well, today I rolled back fifteen or sixteen years to enjoy a superb day’s spring skiing – in France. Hardly next door to La Rectoria, yes, but an invitation from friends to join them for a weekend’s skiing was not going to be passed up. So we are holed up in Marignac some 30kms north of Vielha. Right now the legs are like jelly but it was great to get back on a pair of planks. The snow was wet and heavy with a consistency close to that of damp sugar, but the sun shone and our son had his first taste of the sport.

Now our priority never was to be situated in a ski resort when we started out to look for a suitable house five plus years ago. But La Rectoria is not only situated in some stunning countryside, handily placed for Barcelona and Girona , it is also within striking distance of some not too shoddy skiing. The nearest resort whose name escapes me right now is under one hour from La Rectoria, La Molina in Cerdanya and Nuria near Ribes de Freser are one and a half and Andorra about two hours. Today we are about one hour further west of Andorra enjoying French bread, pork rillette and some skiing. So the point of all of this is depending on when you come to stay with us you can indulge in a variety of past times. Skiing, golf, cycling, walking, history, natural history etc…….

Meanwhile back at the ‘fort’ work has been continuing apace against a backdrop of rainfall on almost biblical proportions. Some 250mm – ten inches in old money – fell over a period of five days last week. Thankfully no damage was done, although a little water did enter a bedroom and measures are being taken to ‘root out’ this problem; a channel is being installed along the back wall of the house and a water repellent product will be used on the inside wall. The main cause would however appear to have been a pile of builder’s sand at the back of the building which resulted in the accumulation of water. All in all the rains have tested and identified areas where excess rainfall has to be redirected away from the house and disposed of. Tiling of the bathrooms is almost complete on the top floor and the tracking of wiring and cementing of walls continues. Any external work ground to a halt due to the weather as much of the surrounding country side took on the appearance of Chinese rice plantations with fields submerged in water. With spade in hand we have been able to plant a few trees and bushes. A greengauge and an apple tree and two blackcurrant bushes. The sole cherry tree has also been moved close to where the hort will be. Thus in time we hope to harvest some of our own fruit.

‘There aren’t enough hours in the day’ …..bollocks!   If there were more I can only surmise that I’d be awake for longer and therefore get proportionally less sleep.   As things are right now when we are not working our ‘spare time’ is taken up by La Rectoria.   And now our antennae are more acutely tuned as the pace of work continues on relentlessly.

Our principal task this week was to finalize our choice of paint for the upper floors…..white.  Easy enough, but as any of you who have had to undertake this exercise before will know, there are quite a mind boggling array of shades of white.  Our architect and builder had already selected and applied three samples to the wall in the hall on the top floor, none of which we liked.  Sowe took ourselves down to the paint shop where we chose three more samples which Goretti duly applied.  An hour or so later and with the paint dry our choice was made and we have plumped for Umbra Weiss….a kind of white.

Meanwhile work on what will soon by our home – the basement –  is forging ahead.  The dividing walls that need to be erected are now largely in place and the windows are now beginning  to be fitted.  Minor amendments have been made to the position of some windows at our request as we want to maximize the views and vistas.   Light fittings are now looming as the next major decision to be made and less importantly but something I want to make a start on this year is the planting of one or two more fruit trees.


 On a very wet and pretty windy evening on Tuesday 22nd of  December, Goretti was invited by the Collegi d’Arquitects de Girona to give a talk about the restoration of La Rectoria.  Hers was one of seven talks that evening, the theme of which was ‘Construir sobre construit’ or ‘Building on top of built’….Restoration I guess, more or less.  What follows is the text of her talk in English and Catalan with the photographs which accompanied it.


Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda

de rectoria a casa rural (guest house)


Included in the “Quaderns”, the Girona magazine featuring Sant Feliu de Pallerol, La Parròquia de Sant Miquel de Pineda is situated in the north west of La Vall d´Hostoles on the left bank of the River Brugent.  The historical landscape includes two buildings: the Church and the Rectory.

La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda is located at kilometer 35 on the road between Olot and Santa Coloma de Farners in the municipality of Sant Feliu de Palleros.  La Rectoria is part of the architectural complex of La Parròquia de Sant Miquel de Pineda and the first records date from 1161. During the 17th century it was included in the area of La Vall d´Hostoles and was linked to the Church of Sant Iscle de Colltort.  In the 19th century it was restored as an independent church and had its own priest who lived in the rectory.  This continued until the death of the most recent priest.   Paquita the house keeper was the last person to live in the house.  She lived there until the land was subdivided in 2004.  La Rectoria became an independent property keeping the right of use of the well that still belongs to the diocese of Girona.  Adjacent to this is the public access to the church. Historically rural churches have a rectory as a part of the same building or as an independent building, as is the case of the La Rectoria de Sant Miquel.

At all times our project has respected the original building and most of all it wants to bring back to life a building that was the centre of the surrounding community. The church and La Rectoria were the meeting point for Sant Miquel´s neighbours, especially the children who were taught in the old gallery of the house when it was used as a school and many of the neighbours still remember their days there. They also remember the train, El Carrilet d´Olot a Sant Feliu de Guixols that ran past the front of the house.  The disused railway line is now part of the Via Verde. But the one thing that everyone remembers with special esteem is Paquita.  During her last days at La Rectoria all of them looked after her and kept her company. 

It is necessary to bear in mind that due to lack of maintenance and use, the building was falling into a state of disrepair and was on the verge of becoming a ruin.  Our project is to transform La Rectoria into a guest house with seven rooms and a restaurant for residents and our home, giving the building a new lease of life and offering our future guests a service not dissimilar to that which the house offered in the past.

Externally we want to preserve the essence of the house, recovering elements that had been covered in the past.  One of the eye-catching elements are the arches in the basement.  These were formerly stables and will eventually provide our home.  Another restored element is the gallery on the south façade where the old school was located and where the dining area for our guests will be.  With the opening of the arches the building has ‘gained’ height and the south facade has seen one of the most dramatic transformations resulting in the creation of one of the most beautiful facades of the building.  

The roof has been removed, cleaned and reassembled using original materials; oak, poplar and ceramic tiles. All these materials have been restored, cleaned, treated and the roof has been reinforced with a perimeter belt. The “Era”(paved area to the south west of La Rectoria) another external element, has also been unassembled and it will be reassembled when convenient.

The inside of the building is where the transformation is most obvious as we are adapting the building to the business and our personal needs as a family. We are preserving all of the elements that give the house its unique character; the old economic kitchen, the vaults in the basement, ceilings, floors, etc… wherever possible and always as permitted by the official building code which at all times has dictated the project from the drawings, building licenses through to the final execution.  

The title of this “Arquipindola” should have been “La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda from and old rectory to a home and guest house”. A project like this isn´t easy and it all began for us in November of 2006 when we left behind our life in Edinburgh to hit the road for Catalunya.  We saw La Rectoria just three months after and we bought it almost a year after that. Buildings like these have something else, you see them and you know straight away that they can give you all you need and more.  That´s what La Rectoria did to us the first time we saw it and still does now.   When you come across one, as architects know, you see what is there but you also have to see through the dust and cobwebs, how it can be restored, transformed and improved. These buildings have lots of history and have witnessed much and that needs to be remembered.

To proceed with a project like this it´s necessary to have a team of people who love these kind of buildings – architects, surveyors, builders, everyone involved and we´ve been very fortunate to find them.  I would like to single out Pere Vidal our builder who together with his team are carrying out the restoration.  He told Roy and myself before we started that you don´t do a job like this to make money, you do it because you like it.  I would like to add that you also end up loving the building as if it were your own child.

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Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda

de rectoria a casa rural

 En els quaderns de la revista de Girona dedicat a Sant Feliu de Pallerols es diu que  “La parròquia de Sant Miquel de Pineda s´ubica al nord-oest de la Vall d’Hostoles, a l’esquerra del riu Brugent. El seu nucli urbà està format únicament per dos immobles: la casa rectoral i l’església”.

La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda es troba exactament al km35 de la Ctra. D´Olot a Santa Coloma de Farners al municipi de Sant Feliu de Pallerols. La Rectoria forma part del conjunt arquitectònic de la Parròquia de Sant Miquel de Pineda, i segons la fitxa cadastral esta datada del 1161. El segle XVII es trobava inclosa dins la batllia de la Vall d´Hostoles i l’església era sufragània de la de Sant Iscle de Colltort, en el segle XIX recupera la condició de parròquia independent fet que fa que els rectors visquin a la rectoria.  L’última persona en habitar-la va ser la Paquita, que hi va viure fins el moment de la segregació quant es va traslladar a les Planes on resideix en l’actualitat.  El conjunt parroquial es va segregar aproximadament al 2004 mantenint però les servituds conegudes sobre la, servitud de pas i del pou.

Històricament totes les esglésies rurals tenien la rectoria o bé com a part l’edifici o com a part del conjunt parroquial en el nostre cas la Rectoria és un edifici independent part del conjunt  parroquial de Sant Miquel de Pineda. 

En tot moment amb aquest projecta volem ser respectuosos amb l’edifici i sobretot volem tornar a donar vida a un edifici que en el seu dia havia estat el nucli de les masies del voltant.  L’Església i la Rectoria servien de punt d’unió dels veïns de Sant Miquel, sobretot  la canalla ja que l’antiga eixida de la casa servia d’escola i  els veïns  dels voltants recorden amb claredat el seu pas per aquesta.  També recorden el pas del tren per davant mateix de l’era, la línia de l’antic carrilet que ara correspon amb la via verda ,  i sobretot recorden amb molta estimació a la Paquita i els últims anys en que va viure sola a la rectoria ja que sembla que entre tots la cuidaven i li feien companyia. 

Cal tenir present que degut a la manca de manteniment i el desús l’edifici va anar caient en un estat pràcticament ruinos.   El nostre projecte es transformar la rectoria en una casa rural amb set habitacions i restaurant per residents i alhora convertir-la en la nostre llar, donat-li de nou un us i oferint un servei als nostres futurs hostes que en manera molt diferent ja havia tingut en el passat.

 En la part exterior volem conservar l’essència de la casa recuperant elements que estaven coberts en el passat, uns dels mes vistosos tal com podeu veure per les fotografies són els arcs en la planta inferior, on hi havia les quadres on s´emplaçarà la nostre vivenda i també la recuperació de la eixida a la planta principal, on s’emplaçarà el menjador pels nostres hostes.   Amb l’obertura dels arcs em aconseguit que l’edifici hagi guanyat amb alçada i tal com es veu en les fotos la façana sud és la que ha patit un canvi mes dramàtic passant a ser una de les façanes mes boniques de l’edifici.

 La coberta s’ha desmuntat, netejat i tornat a muntar utilitzant tots els materials originals, roure, pollancre, tova.  Tots aquest material s’han recuperat, netejat, tractat i la coberta s’ha reforçat amb un cinto perimetral per tal de reforçar l’estructura de tot l’edifici.

L’era, és un dels elements exteriors que també s’ha desmuntat i es tornarà a muntar en el moment oportú.

En la part interior és on s’està portant a terme una transformació mes gran per adaptar l’edifici a les necessitats del negoci i també a les nostres necessitats familiars,  intentem però conservar tots aquells elements intrínsecs a l’edifici i que li donen el seu caràcter únic.  L’antiga cuina econòmica, les voltes d’aresta de la planta baixa, sostres, terres, etc.. el màxim  possible i sempre si ens ho permet aquest codi tècnic tant interessant que et condiciona tant i tant a l’hora de realitzar el projecte sobre paper, alhora de l’obtenció de permisos i durant la seva execució. 

 Potser el títol d’aquesta arqui-píndola hauria d’haver estat, Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda de rectoria a llar i casa rural.   Com us podeu imaginar un projecte així no és fàcil de tirar endavant, per nosaltres tot va començar el novembre del 2006 quant varem deixar enrere la nostre vida a Edinburgh per engegar el camí de tornada per mi, d’anada pel Roy i el Silvestre cap a Catalunya.    La rectoria la varem veure només tres mesos després d’arribar i la vam adquirir al cap d’uns mesos, sabeu aquests edificis que desprenen un no se que, els veus i saps que et poden donar tot el que necessites i mes, doncs això ens ho va donar la rectoria quant la varem veure per primera vegada i continua donant-nos aquesta sensació ara mateix. Quant et trobes davant d’un edifici així, tal com sabeu els arquitectes, has de veure el que hi ha, però també has de ser capaç de veure mes enllà de la pols i les teranyines com es pot conservar, transformar i millorar.   Aquestes cases tenen molta historia, però sobretot desprenent molta vida, vida viscuda per tots els que hi han passat i per tot el que hi ha passat i això cal tenir-ho present.

M’agradaria acabar, ja molt ràpidament dient que per tirar endavant un projecte així cal un equip de gent que estimin aquest tipus d’edificis, desde els arquitectes, aparellador, constructor, etc.. i nosaltres tenim moltíssima sort d’haver-los trobat.  Recordo que en Pere Vidal que amb el seu equip porten a terme l’execució de l’obre ens va dir al Roy hi ha mi abans de començar que una obra així no es fa per fer diners, si no perquè t´agrada i jo afegiré perquè te l’acabes estima’n quasi com un fill.



On the building site and in the classroom it was back to work this week.  Hods and grammar books in hand, the summer was over and work commenced.  The workforce on site has been doubled – from two to four – and the difference is self evident in what has been achieved this week alone.  Already much of the final part of the roof to be renewed has been stripped off, with ‘scaffolding’ in place and work on the reinforcing belt started.

Today is La Diada, L’Onze de setembre, in recent times 9/11 in the rest of the world, thereby submerging this Catalan National day with something of a contemporary calendarial tsunami.  This morning started bright and sunny, but admittedly sleepily on my part and I needed an extra nudge and poke from Silvestre and the words ‘Papa’ to summon me from my bed.

A holiday day, you bet ya.  When we joined the C17 just south of La Garriga the traffic was nose to tail until we got to the plain of Osona.  The small restaurant on the carril bici just passed St. Esteve en Bas was doing a roaring trade with cars and cycles packing the car park.  We arrived at La Rectoria and immediately walked a few hundred metres up the cycle path.  Our mission today, to inspect the work and pick some brambles (where I left you last week).  What struck’, however, was the volume of cycle traffic.  Blokes in groups, families, lean, fat and thin, lycra clad cyclists of all ages packed the cycle path and whirred and fizzed passed with the customary  ‘adeu’ or ‘bon dia’ until the sacred lunch hour and then with the odd exception silence descended.  An hour and a half or so later with a purple, thorn impregnated left hand and two containers ladden with brambles we headed back for lunch.

Thankfully we are on the last (biggest third) portion of the roof.  This north facing side of the house has the chimney and overlooks the garden.   As with the roof restoration that has gone before, scaffolding has been, I hesitate to say, erected.  More accurately a combination of metal girders and beams have been thrust through the outer wall on to which other beams are placed as a walk way, with a hand rail fitted and held in place with what I would describe as clamps.  One variation of this is the use of jacks which are used to support the walkway at an angle from underneath.  These in turn are held perilously in place by being wedged into the main wall of the house forming a triangle of wall, walkway and jack.  It all seems to work and I’ll leave that there. The chimney it would seem is in good order and apparently only needs a good clean and pointing and otherwise will not be interfered with.

This last week I have been teaching away from home and entertained a fellow teacher and our two students to the autumnal comfort of ‘bramble and apple crumble’.

6/7 sour apples (pomes àcides)

300g brambles

½ teaspoon cinnamon

180g flour

120g butter

60g sugar 

Peel, core and dice the apples.  Place in a pan with the cinnamon over a moderately high heat and cover.  Stirring occasionally, the apples should start to soften and disintegrate.  If the apples are very dry add about 100g of brambles at this stage – enough to release sufficient liquid to help the cooking of the apples.  When the apples are almost ‘stewed’ add the remaining brambles and take the pan off the heat and put the mix in an ovenproof dish, filling it to a depth of about 4cms. 

In another bowl, sift in the flour and add the diced cool butter.  Rub with your fingers until the mix is homogenous.  Then add the sugar and mix to a ‘breadcrumb’ consistency.  Place this mix loosely on top of the stewed fruit to a depth of up to 1cm.  Dotting the top of the crumble mix with a few small cubes of diced butter adds to the rich ‘crumbly’ nature of this pud.

Cook in the oven at about 160°c until the top is golden brown and……crumbly.  Serve with cream, custard, ice cream or whatever pops your cork!  Yummy, it’s autumn.

The schools in Catalunya broke up for the summer holidays five weeks ago and since then many of the kids have been occupied in Cases de Colonies (summer camps) of one form or another.  Our five year old son spent three weeks attending what could loosely be called a tennis camp…..swimming, tennis, gymkhana, water fight, tennis, clay workshop…..I am not a fan of the long Spanish school summer holidays (the primary reason given being the summer heat), but the one clear benefit is the opportunity for children to try a sport or some other such past time and should they get hooked pursue and hone those skills in future years.   It might be something of an oversimplification but there must be some correlation between the current crop of Spanish world champions – football, basketball – and individual winners – Contador, Nadal….Alonso aside and for another day.

And now the feel good tsunami that comes with the warmth of summer engulfed the weekly visita d’obres at La Rectoria today.  A cheery throng of owners, builder, aparellador and architect opened diaries and noted holiday dates and duly swapped vacation plans.  The  subcontractors sandblasting the wooden beams brought something of the seaside feel with the odd shower of black silicon dust finding its way toward us. 

Work continues on the roof and the second of three sections is now being reassembled.  The reinforcing cinturon, a belt of concrete and steel rods is firmly in-situ and the newly sandblasted beams and joists are being put back in place.  Some have been replaced as required from a stock Pere has, but all are of a considerable age in this section of the roof.  One had a distinctly different grain and hue, darker with black circular lines in places.  This I was told was fusta de riera, wood from a tree by the stream below the house.  Naively I then asked if timber for the original beams had been sourced locally.  If you could see the location of the house you’d realize what a dumb question that was, built as it was in an isolated valley long long ago.  

So these beams have been given a new lease of life and if they had a tale to tell I guess it would involve many man hours of sawing, chopping and cleaving.   Being hauled to the site by donkey, ox or horse and then cut to size and hoisted skyward and fixed in place until disturbed by Pere, Viçencs and Josep.

We were in turn joined by the Alcalde (Mayor) of Sant Feliu de Pallerols who seemed impressed by the work being undertaken.  He proceeded to recall childhood memories of time spent at the house with the then incumbent priest and housekeeper Paquita.

And so the visit drew to a close.  Holidays are at hand and we are about one month behind (our) schedule.  If this was an end of term school report I think the pupil would be getting ‘A’ grades, congratulatory back slaps and a chorus of well dones.  And so it should be for our team  and especially my wife Goretti who has kept one and all in check and monitored progress with I guess a sense of excitement and has learnt a good deal along the way.

This time next year and the finish line will be in sight…and the start of the next stage will be upon us.

School day memories have come back over the last few days.  Tucked away in the corner of what is our store room in Cardedeu is an old wooden desk of the type we had at Lathallan all of 40 years ago.  At the front is the wooden furrow where pens and pencils rested and sitting in the right hand corner the one inch round hole where the china white ink well once rested.  Set three inches or so from the front are the hinges of the lid, which when lifted from the back of the desk opens to provide ample space for school books, paper etc.  We have now placed this desk in Silvestre’s bedroom, as functional as when it was first made 50 years or more ago.

Lifelong friendships were forged sitting at desks such as this and inspirational men taught us maths, history, science and more.  I can’t and won’t lay any claim to being a model student, but I was fortunate to share with my friends the pearls and inspiration that were presented us by the Headmaster, Mr Burton and his wife, Winnie.

Why this outpouring of nostalgia and what is the connection with La Rectoria?   Pere’s men have this week opened up the five bricked up arches in what will be the dining room for the house.  Since our first visit as prospective buyers three years ago the distribution of the house has all but been self evident.  The ‘basement’ was to be our home.  Many of the existing rooms with minor modifications are to be en-suite bedrooms and the old ‘economic kitchen’ with its open fire, the ‘snug’ whisky totting, post dinner salon.   Of all these rooms however, it has been the ‘dining room’ that has retained the greatest secret.  The five arched windows have been blocked up either with stone or perforated red bricks which allowed light to filter in but made any sense of what was beyond impossible.  This room latterly had been used as a classroom.  Painted a light duck egg blue, walls and slanted wooden beams.  The only suggestion of its final purpose is a blackboard painted on one wall.  Largely broken, but still bearing a few illegible scribbles.  Here a priest would have taught boys and girls from the local parish.  Reading, writing, maths and no doubt the word of God.  All in a little valley largely isolated from Spain, if not the outside world. 

The opening of the arches to the dining room totally transforms the experience on entering the house.  What was warm but dark it now radiant and bright as light now floods in.  I can’t say what the trigger was that brought about this cascade of sentimental memories.  Old wooden desks and ink wells have been a catalyst.  But light, vision and education do go hand in glove.

And what a difference a week makes.  Grey and rain ladden clouds have been replaced by blue skies, hazy horizons and light clouds of cotton wool.  Mud is now baked earth and in the relatively brief time I have lived in Catalunya I doubt I have seen the vegetation so green and lush.  My agricultural eyes pick up erroneous beauty.  Fields of wheat obscured by a blanket of red poppies.  Unproductive but pleasant to the eye.

Today we tested out our latest garden gadget to great effect.  A strimmer, brushcutter (in American parlance) or desbrozador, I am wary of such tools, for the simple reason that they are bloody dangerous.  But needs must, given that the garden is taking on the appearance of an unmanageable jungle.  Petrol mixed, visor fitted and harness attached and two or three hours later much of the ‘lawn’ has been laid flat.  Result!

Moves are now underway re-finalizing quotations for the kitchen – oven, canopy and extraction, dishwasher.  Bon profit!

On Friday I was meant to go into Barcelona first thing to meet up with a colleague, but leadened skies and heavy rain put paid to that.  Goretti had an appointment with a serraller (blacksmith) and  Albert our aparellador (surveyor) at La Rectoria to discuss the ‘finishes’ to the periphery  of the windows, arches and doors. So I took the opportunity of accompanying her.  In our limited experience of working with architects (the extension to our flat in Edinburgh and this somewhat larger project) we have learnt that they can be prone to flights of fancy which can then be converted into items of not inconsiderable cost.  This is not to diminish their art and creative bent and both Goretti and I have thought on occasions that given a bottomless pit of money, the opportunities open to us re-the design of La Rectoria would be mind boggling.  Therefore I guess, there is nothing quite like a budget to keep you focused.

Thus it has been with the metal finishes of the house.  The initial idea was to ‘mark’ (frame the profile) the outline of the windows, arches and doors with bands  of steel 10 to 20cm wide and 6mm thick.  In time these oxidise to russets and browns.  Kind of nice.  The shear cost of 6mm steel has put the kybosh on using it on the facade of the arches but we are intending to use it as intended elsewhere.  So the serraller produced his weighty sample of steel, the colour of Heinz Tomato soup.  When darker it will provide a good counterpoint to the stone of the house.  Prudence has also led us to the decision of plastering as opposed to pointing exposed stone walls on the main floor, as originally intended.  The pointed stone might have  aesthetically been our choice, but at three times the price the decision was something of a no brainer.  So, these are the types of decisions we are having to weigh up on a weekly basis as alternative options are thrown up to us.

As we arrived at La Rectoria under grey skies and low cloud, a large cement mixer was already at work supplying another truck with funnily enough, cement, which was being pumped into the top floor of the house.  Inside, Vicenç and a colleague armed with some kind of electrically operated scraper were smoothing out the liquid mass across the floor.  This operation was to be repeated in the basement as well.  In total some six or seven truck loads of cement.  When finished this should help reinforce the overall structure and provide a layer on to which to put the floor finishes.

Meanwhile outside the garden and carri bici immediately leading to La Rectoria has taken on the appearance of a ploughed park.  That will be rectified in good time.  But in the short term we are going to have to pay some attention to tidying and maintaining the garden in the coming months.  Mechanical means will have to be employed to tackle the majority of the work, but we are considering a biological/organic four legged option.  On frequent visits to Barcelona Zoo with Silvestre we have seen African Pygmy goats frolicking gaily in their pen.  These playful wee beasts could provide us with mobile weed and flower munching garden maintenance machines, reaching the parts lawnmowers cannot reach.  I’m looking forward to erecting the sign- ‘Caution – Exotic Pets’.